Monday, August 3, 2015

Why Attendance (Could Be) Everything

Yes, yes, another blog post about my summer school experience. I've been scrap booking all my summer school photos into my annual teaching photo album, so it's given me a visual reminder of all we've accomplished. My amazing crew of eleven superstar students were absolutely delightful to be with for our time together. The time was brief, and not just because we only had four weeks.

This was the first year that I had significant attendance issues. The rules are quite clear: if a student misses three consecutive days of summer school, they are demitted, because they have been absent for a large portion of instruction time. The key word here is "consecutive". I actually had to digitally insert one of my students into the class photo because we only had 1.5 days where every single student on my class list was present.

There are a lot of factors involved with student attendance, and many of them are out of the control of my wonderful 8-year-olds. Some had religious obligations. Others had medical appointments. Still more families had long weekend vacations planned. For families not close by, there were transportation arrangements to be made. Another had an unexpected family emergency and could not complete the last week of school at all.

The majority of my students wanted to go to summer school. They (and their families) made Herculean efforts to come, even if it meant they were only there for a short portion of the day. I tried very hard, as I mentioned in my early July post to give adequate time for assignments. I didn't want to penalize anyone for extenuating circumstances. I also didn't want the students who were there for every single day of summer school (... let's be truthful - one student) to feel like we were in a "holding pattern", waiting or stalling for others to catch up so we could move on to new challenges.

The title of this blog post sounds a bit alarmist. Maybe I'm exaggerating a bit. The student that was there every day built at least six items during #lmmss3; the student that missed the most time created two. Who am I to say that the student who missed at least nine days did not get as much of a benefit as did the student who attended all eighteen days?  Yet, how much more rich of an experience could it have been if the student was around? It's not just about the work; it's about the time spent ... tinkering in the Creation Quadrant or talking with new friends about their latest discovery on Webkinz. (My clever students discovered that good virtual money could be made by answering academic questions on Quizzy's Corner, but they preferred to go mining and sell their gems to Arte Fact in the Curio Shop. They also found that by buying new Webkinz themselves, they could increase their virtual bank accounts dramatically.)

As I did some lazy research into the topic prior to clicking the publish button on this post, I found an article about an area in the UK that forbids absences during the school year due to family vacations and actually levies fines on those who insist on pulling their children out. I hesitate to institute such strong measures. After all, learning can happen anywhere, not just between school walls. It's just that summer school is a shortened time, so I/we feel the absences much more than during a typical school year (18 vs approximately 190 days). I know for myself that there were several post-assessment math interviews that I couldn't conduct because the student wasn't around for me to chat with them and use that particular tool to measure their success by comparing results to their pre-assessment math interview. Poor attendance has some serious consequences for school and jobs. I hope there are things we can do to minimize the "damage" and that my click-bait title is more hyperbole than anything else.

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